‘We’re off to see the Wizard…’ 1939’s iconic musical fantasy seems to have gained a static, indelible point in cinematic history; a film so widely seen that quotes from it can be slipped into everyday life with no explanation or context, a film consumed by children, then adults, the effects of watching it through a hail of booze and drugs have been discussed elsewhere. As the years go by, it begins to command the sentimentality in our lives that our parents had for it; a staple of television rotation, The Wizard of Oz does not mention Christmas or even religion once, but the giddy mix of witches and flying monkeys is arguably the most familiar Christmas movie of all.
Months ago, I picked up a blu-ray of Victor Fleming’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s story in a charity shop bin, and stashed it away for a potential Christmas Eve watch, where the garish colours and mood changes are laid bare on HD. We see Judy Garland, 12 going on 40, singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow with a air of melancholy that doesn’t seem right for Dorothy, a simple farm girl who dreams of a different life. A tornado, still an amazing effect to behold, lifts Dorothy up and away to the land of Oz, where she follows the yellow-brick road to confront the wizard. Of course, it’s the friends that Dorothy makes along the way that make it, friends who seem familiar from her old life at the farm…
Perhaps being imprinted on so many young minds has allowed The Wizard of Oz to inhabit some kind of sweet spot where any inadequacies are overlooked; it can represent a dust-bowl treatise on the dangers of capitalism, a covert message about female or gay emancipation or a celebration of capitalism and a firm warning to the population to forget their dreams and stay at home much like the similarly stay-put messaging in It’s A Wonderful Life. The songs are short and bunched together, there’s too much Munchkin protocol, some of the sets are quaint heading towards garish; not every moment is magical. And even for a kids fantasy, this doesn’t make much sense; good witch Glinda could have ended Dorothy’s quest at any time, but we assume that she’s teaching some kind of humbling lesson to Dorothy, helping her avoid the kind of hubris that hobbled the Wicked Witch when she chose to confront Dorothy right beside a potentially lethal bucket of water. But the overall package is still effective; the musical-hall songs and vaudevillian posing as Dorothy and her friends head down the Yellow Brick Road are beyond criticism.
The Wizard of Oz, like Alice and Wonderland, changes over time to reflect different meanings, but at heart, it’s saying ‘don’t bother looking to others to solve your problems, solve them yourselves’. It could be saying that there’s every reason to think for yourself and question authority, but it could equally be saying the opposite; The Wizard of Oz can mean anything to anyone, and often does. If nothing else, it’s a accessible, malleable text that means just-about something to just-about everyone, so you might as well just kick back and enjoy. So, in summation, a very merry Christmas 2022 to all who read this.